If you are a believer, I think that you will agree with me that one of the great gifts that God has given us is His Word, scripture. It is described by my tradition’s confession of faith as “a perfect treasure of divine instruction…and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds , and religions opinions should be tried” (Baptist Faith and Message). While the whole thing is a gift from God, I know that my personal experience, and probably yours as well, is that certain aspects of scripture can bless you more or less at certain times.
Over the last several years, I have had my blessed life repeatedly by the Psalms. The Psalms are often referred to as the “prayer book of the Bible” and there is a great deal of truth in that. They are some of the most personal writings in all of scripture, often the psalmist pouring his heart out to God. There are psalms of praise, psalms of lament, psalms of confession, psalms of anger, and psalms of mourning. Just about every human emotion can be found in the Psalms.
I am so grateful that I can turn to the Psalms, to God breathed, God inspired, inerrant scripture, and see the myriad of human emotion on display. If I am trying to find words of praise to lift up to God, I can turn to the Psalms. If I am overwhelmed by doubt and fear, as we all can be, the Psalms are there to guide me back to God. And when I can find myself overwhelmed by the situation in the world, unsure of how I can deal with all of the pain, suffering, and sin that I see around me, I have learned that I can turn to the Psalms and there I will find a word of comfort and consolation from the Lord.
The last 24 months have been extreme in the pressure and stress they have put us all under. Not only have we experienced the ravages of this pandemic, medical, economic and social, but we have also experienced great social upheaval in our own country and now the entire world holds its breath as an international land war has broken out in Europe for the first time since VE Day in 1945.
All of that is to say, it would be easy to say “the times are bad.” It certainly can seem like they are. Prices on everything are going up, war in on the horizon, there are dire predictions of global wheat shortages, international supply routes are still messed up leading to shortages. It would be easy to cast ourselves on the ground and despair.
In Psalm 118 we see the psalmist has been in a great deal of distress. He was surrounded by the nations, threatened, perhaps, with total annihilation, but he tells us that he “called on the Lord in distress; the Lord answered me and put me in a spacious place. The Lord is for me; I will not be afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?” (Psalm 118:5-6). In his distress, the psalmist did not despair. He did not even doubt, though it would have been so easy to do. No, in his distress he called out to God, knowing that God was going to show up, and knowing that if God showed up what in the world could be done to him.
It is clear from this that the psalmist has a clear understanding of God’s power and sovereignty. He knows that if God, the Lord, is for him that no mortal power can be brought against him that will overcome him. He continues in verses 8“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust humanity.”
English Puritan Richard Sibbes stated it this way: “Times are bad, God is good. He can alter all. When there is no hope of escaping, no likely issue, God can make it good.” This is how the psalmist is able to both start and concludes Psalm 118 with the same words, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1 and Psalm 118:29 [they are identical]).
In these uncertain days, my God’s power and sovereignty cause you to praise his name and save you from despair.
Questions to consider:
1) Do you have a favorite Psalm? Which one? Why?
2) Is there another passage of scripture that has given you great comfort at some point? What is it? Why?
3) Read through Psalm 118. Identify all of the traits of God that are shown in it. How should these traits of God focus our prayer lives?
S. Carter McNeese lives in Fairmont, NC with his wife, son, and various pets. He is pastor at Fairmont First Baptist Church. You can reach him at [email protected]